Job Loss Shakes Campus

By Katy Anderson

In what many are calling a “sad day” for the University of Calgary community, an internal memo was circulated Tuesday announcing the university will cut 200 positions by fall, with further cuts “likely.”

Faced with the loss of $78 million in endowments and investments announced in January, coupled with the provincial government’s decision that the U of C will receive a zero per cent increase in their base operating budget next year, the university has a $14.3 million deficit for 2008/09.

Provincial legislation dating back to the Klein era forbids Alberta universities from running an operating deficit.

In the memo, university president Harvey Weingarten wrote that 60 per cent of the U of C’s budget goes to employee salaries and benefits.

“I anticipate that we will need to reduce our staff complement by up to 200 people by the fall of this year. There is likely to be additional staff and faculty reductions in the future,” said Weingarten.

Although disappointed with the university’s announcement, Students’ Union president Charlotte Kingston said the institution is stuck between a “rock and a hard place,” stressing she believes the root cause is the zero per cent increase from the province.

“As far as I’m concerned it is the province who is not properly recognizing that post-secondary education is going to receive more students during the recession,” said Kingston.

“Today, I would say, this is a very clear indication of what happens when the province fails post-secondary education.”

Alberta Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner defended the province, pointing to the annual increase in the base operating budget over the last five years, saying the increases add up to 34 per cent.

“I recognize that whenever you’re going to have this kind of human resource adjustment it sounds very negative, and it is negative to those involved and we hope for the best for them, but I think to say that we’re not supporting our post-secondaries, when you compare us to any other jurisdiction in the world right now, those numbers speak for themselves,” he said.

Horner also said the cuts could be done without sacrificing quality or spaces.

“This is about using technology better, it’s about [making]human resources management better,” he said.

In the memo, Weingarten said the university would increase enrollment to try and balance the budget. Next year, the university is allotted to grow by 1,500 full-time-equivalent students in areas that already see high demand, like health sciences and business.

Kingston, however, cautioned what the impact of a reduced number of services, paired with a growing number of enrollments, would mean.

“I think we’ll probably see our class sizes grow, I think we’ll see the number of teaching assistants drop and, certainly, there’s going to be lower access to administrators and support staff, which is never good,” said Kingston.

Anticipating the budget shortfalls, the university embarked on the IS2 project, an administrative review evaluating the business practices of university services, earlier this year, said vice-president of external relations Colleen Turner.

Most of the cuts will affect support staff, said Turner, but noted cuts to faculty may come in the form of attrition. The university already imposed limits on hiring earlier in the year, mandating that all new hires be approved by the vice-provost. As faculty leave, new staff will likely not be hired to replace them.

“These are individuals and these are individual lives that are going to be affected and it’s not a decision that the university takes lightly,” said Turner.

In addition to the cuts, all faculties and units will reduce their budgets by three per cent, said Turner.

“At the end of the day it’s going to mean that the faculties have difficulty in actually doing the jobs that they’re expected to do because they are going to be getting a three per cent cut in order to do the same work,” said The University of Calgary Faculty Association president Anne Stalker.

Stalker questioned the planning of the university. She noted that if future cuts are made to faculty hires and programs, by nature long-term, then “you’ve cut at the core of the university,” but if the main problem is with endowments, it remains possible the economy may turn around next year.

While Stalker said the cuts are a “red flag for us to say we do need to ask more questions about the way in which the overall budget is managed,” Kingston called for “administration, students and everyone involved in post-secondary education to start telling the government that their reaction to the fiscal crunch has been improper.”

“I think it’s a sad news day for everyone involved, and it’s a tough day for the U of C community to see this happen,” said Kingston.

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